Did anyone else read the New York Times article (July 3rd) by Carina Chocano in which she bemoaned the rise of women who are "tough, cold, terse, taciturn and prone to not saying goodbye when they hang up the phone"? In other words: strong female characters.
Cocano was speaking more about films than books, but I found her riff on the whole subject fascinating and pertinent nonetheless. She made the point that when people use the term "strong female character," they aren't really describing characters that are complex or well-written, nor are they referencing heroines who figure prominently in a story. What is really meant by "strong female character," she argues, is a female character with the gendered behavior taken out.
I've thought about this with regard to my mystery series and its heroine Darby Farr. Now Darby's not what I would call a "girly girl." She's an expert at Aikido, she's a loner, and she doesn't espouse too many qualities which we'd consider traditionally feminine (although she is a big believer in intuition.) When she acted a little impulsively at one point in the first book, A House to Die For, a reviewer gently chastised me for a "TSTL," or "too stupid to live" moment. You can bet I made sure Darby was a little more careful in Killer Listing, and she's downright precise in Deadly Offer, coming out in April. She is strong. She is invincible. She is Darby...
And yet, as Chocano argues in her article, isn't a little weakness "precisely what makes characters interesting, relatable, and funny"? If our strong female characters all act like Lisbeth Salander, aren't we contributing to the notion that for a female character to be worth identifying with, she can't be at all feminine?
On a personal level, I ask myself why it is that Darby can't make a few mistakes here and there? Might she shed a tear when she gets upset or hurt? And I'd like to see her make at least one close friend, for goodness sake, even if it's someone she meets in Aikido class.
I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy writing scenes in which Darby displays so-called "masculine" qualities. When she takes out a bad guy with an expert move, I feel nearly as proud as when my very beautiful daughter makes a killer kick in soccer. But Darby can have a softer side, too, and we may see it from time to time in future books. After all, she's evolving and growing.
Or would that be me?